Those who think that public transportation is a minor, needless matter, a sort of ancient affair that should be of interest only to poor soldiers without a car or the elderly, better skip this article and move on to the new car section (while planning to spend their free time in the metal box they purchased, stuck in traffic and in an endless search for a parking spot.)
Those who already saw how transportation systems work in developed countries, and those who understand that high-quality public transportation is Israel’s lifesaver from the traffic jams, lost work hours, road accidents, pollution, parking woes and fuel prices, must also know what curbs our transportation system.
After years of deliberately neglecting public transportation here in favor of private vehicles, officials are starting to understand that transportation cannot be premised on cars alone, and that without an appropriate public transportation system the country shall ground to a halt. And so, in this tortuous road we have been taking, we are slowly seeing initiatives and moves aimed at improving public transportation, including the major reform in central Israel bus routes.
However, one prominent aspect regularly thwarts all plans and visions: Our public transportation system is suspended on weekends. There is no other place like this in the world. By the way, things are different in Haifa too, which in this respect is not really part of the country: It offers public transportation on Shabbat despite its significant religious and haredi population. Buses travel Saturdays, and lo and behold, the lifestyle of Haifa residents, secular or religious, is not harmed.
For the benefit of those who weren’t aware of it, a few bus routes in central Israel also start operating a few hours before Shabbat ends. We must be on guard so that nobody would think of (as was published in Ynet the other day) annuling these routes, as some officials tried to do in the past.
So why in Haifa but not in Beersheba? Because that’s the “status quo” – that’s how it used to be. Yet ever since that old status quo had been determined and endorsed, Israel has changed. Some 300,000 new vehicles hit the roads every year, and the country is increasingly becoming choked by traffic jams and road accidents. New roads are being paved, yet they too cannot contain such traffic. Our cities are jammed too, overcome by smoke and noise
Nobody forced to travel on Shabbat
The public is now being urged to show its faith in public transportation, but who would give up his car when he has no reasonable option to use on his free day, his secular Saturday? Those who have no choice, because they have no car or no driver’s license, will remain grounded and discriminated against on weekends.
My bill on weekend transportation was rejected last week through the pressure of haredi factions in the coalition. The bill explicitly noted that routes may be modified in order to take into consideration the religious character of some areas, and that route frequency may be minimized so we can generally mark the character of the Shabbat. “But we have coalition agreements,” explained the government representative at the Knesset, and the possibility to have normal public transportation here was curbed.
Haredi Knesset members were overjoyed and slammed what they referred to as “desecration of the Shabbat,” yet they too know that the country doesn’t come to a halt on Saturdays. Hospitals continue to operate as do the police, IDF, Magen David Adom ambulance service and fire brigades. Our airport remains open, the electricity and water systems work regularly, and the same is true for television and radio, hotels, and a variety of other bodies and factories that provide diverse services.
Indeed, it’s easy to zealously preach against “desecration of the Shabbat,” while turning a blind eye to the fact that all abovementioned services are being maintained on Shabbat and during holidays, by other citizens, and can be used at any time.
This is the kind of hypocrisy we see in respect to public transportation, an incredibly vital service. And let us make no mistake about it: We are not forcing anyone to travel on Shabbat. Each person should live as he or she see fit. And just like I would not think of forcing a certain lifestyle on anyone, nobody has a right to interfere in my life that way.
Hence, public transportation must travel on Shabbat. Instead, at this time we see hundreds of thousands of vehicles jamming the roads on Shabbat. Solid public transportation would merely serve to minimize traffic and road accidents on this special day.
The Shabbat is precious to us all, both secular and religious, and if we wish to honor it and respect each other, we must disengage from a hypocritical, false status quo.
Knesset Member Nitzan Horowitz, Meretz
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